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1000Memories Focuses on Dealing with Death in the Digital Age

When Rudy Adler’s friend died last year, he was suddenly and painfully reminded of the shortcomings of social networks—Facebook and Twitter focus on connections between living people, but the deceased are stuck in what Adler describes as a “viral loop.” Users have complained of receiving invitations to “reconnect” with dead friends, or of getting a pre-arranged virtual birthday greeting from beyond the grave. “After our friend died, we all went to his Facebook page to share pictures and stories. But after a few weeks, the page was memorialized and his wall was shut down. All of those stories disappeared.” To memorialize a page, a friend or family member must fill out a form and submit the request to Facebook. Upon verification, the deceased user disappears from news feeds and will cease showing up in Facebook’s suggestions, and the memorialized page becomes accessible only to confirmed friends.

Adler, 29, together with friends Brett Huneycutt and Jonathan Good, recognized an opportunity. They quit their jobs—Adler at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, working on campaigns for Levi’s and Nike; Huneycutt and Good at consulting giant McKinsey & Company—and convened in San Francisco in February 2009, moving into a house in the Mission.

The trio applied and was accepted to Y Combinator, a Bay Area-based incubator that provides seed money and 12 weeks of crash-course, hands-on support to start-ups in exchange for a small stake in the company. It was there that 1000memories.com took shape. A social platform for remembering the lives of the deceased, 1000Memories steps into a space that has been largely ignored by social media entrepreneurs. The site allows individuals to honor deceased friends or relatives—once a page is created, anyone can add stories or photographs, and the content will never be deleted. And in contrast to the often-predatory death business, the site is entirely free for users. “I never would have imagined building a product like this until it happened to me,” says Adler. “This has become a problem for the first time. Everyone has an online identity, and when they die their online presence continues on.” Says Adler, “We knew we could create a better platform for remembering people’s lives.”

At the conclusion of Y Combinator, every team has three minutes to present their idea to investors. 1000Memories was roundly embraced, and quickly raised a significant amount of money from top-tier investors. The site’s user base doubles every two weeks, and they recently partnered with Wreaths Across America, creating a specially designed section to commemorate veterans. “We are rallying the community around the deceased,” says Adler. “We’re using technology to do it, which is new, but the impetus behind it is as old as time.”